Fresh from directing Jessie Buckley (Cabaret) in Romeo and Juliet at the National Theatre, Simon Godwin returns to the venue with another Shakespeare play about a love affair which is far from straightforward.

Much Ado About Nothing is one of the most popular and malleable in the Bard’s canon. In the last half-decade alone, we’ve seen Benedick and Beatrice take pops at each other in a Mexican setting and later the tail end of World War 2 for the Globe, in modern Sicily (with Mel Giedroyc as Beatrice) for the Rose Theatre and a stunning Afro-futuristic version for the RSC.

This time around, while the setting isn’t as ambitious as the RSC’s, it has been executed with a great degree of class and character. Godwin’s warring couple meet on the Italian Riviera at a hotel managed by Leonato and his wife Antonia. Benedick and his soldier buddies Pedro and Claudio fly onto the stage waving the Italian flag and, before long, Claudio only has eyes for Leonato’s daughter Hero. Perma-bachelor Benedick is less pleased to see Hero’s cousin Beatrice and the pair’s ongoing verbal battle is at the heart of this play’s funniest moments while the romantic journeys of these two couples gives Much Ado its dramatic framework.

The marquee name here is Katherine Parkinson, famous for being part of the IT Crowd’s central trio. She is something of a gamble to play Beatrice considering that, in over twenty years since she first trod the boards, she has never professionally appeared in a Shakespeare play never mind as a lead actress. Unfortunately, this is a gamble that doesn’t pay off: Parkinson has great comic timing but her general delivery comes across as neither natural nor innate. We hear her words but don’t feel them.

That’s a shame as the remainder of the cast are quite superb. Opposite her, John Heffernan plays Benedick to a T, someone happy to casually philander their way through life until the impossibly perfect woman turns up. His finest scene sees him hiding in an ice-cream cart while trying to overhear what his colleagues have to say about Beatrice; by the time, they have had their fun at his expense, he emerges covered in dollops of gelato and a variety of toppings to pronounce upon his change of heart.

This play may well be Eben Figueiredo’s breakout role. His Claudio is exciting, vibrant and given a street edge with an accent distinctly at odds with the more RP tones deployed elsewhere. Ioanna Kimbook brings pools of pathos to the underwritten Hero, especially in the latter, darker scenes. David Judge is magnificent as the villain Don John giving him a cold, hard edge which speaks volumes for one of the play’s two-dimensional characters. Also catching the eye is Phoebe Horn who, making her professional debut here, is a twinkling delight throughout as Hero’s maid Margaret.

The design is phenomenal throughout. Anna Fleischle’s set, lit up wonderfully by Lucy Carter’s lighting, is beautiful in scope and detail while Evie Gurney’s pastel costumes are stunning in their sun-kissed simplicity. Godwin’s take on this much-repeated classic doesn’t have the wow factor of the RSC’s but, as a slice of sheer escapism, is highly recommended.